“The Hebrew prophets belong to all people because their concepts of justice and equality have become ideals for all races and civilizations. Today we particularly need the Hebrew prophets because they taught that to love God was to love justice…The Hebrew prophets are needed today because decent people must be imbued with the courage to speak the truth, to realize that silence may temporarily preserve status or security but to live with a lie is a gross affront to God…The Hebrew prophets are needed today because we need their flaming courage…”
These were the words of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King spoken on the night of December 5, 1965, when he accepted the “Judaism and World Peace Award” from the Synagogue Council of America. The award, which was established in 1960, had previously been presented to, among others, President Dwight D. Eisenhower and President John F. Kennedy.
Created in 1926, the Synagogue Council of America was an umbrella organization that encompassed the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the Rabbinical Assembly, the Rabbinical Council, the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, United Synagogue of America, and the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations. While the member organizations originally tried to find consensus on religious problems, by the 1960s the Synagogue Council had become a political face for the North American Jewish community and was involved with sponsoring several national conventions focused on social welfare and inter-religious issues. The Council itself ceased operating in 1994.
The Synagogue Council presented the award to Dr. King two years after his famous “I have a Dream” speech. Dr. King was presented the award for his “personal courage, responsible leadership and dedication to Prophetic ideals.”
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